Moviegoers who enjoyed the on-screen camaraderie of actors Chris Pine and Ben Foster in Hell Or High Water needn’t stray too far to look for another offering. Director Tarik Saleh’s The Contractor sets up a lean blend of stimulating international espionage with family drama, to top it all off with an insightful, multi-dimensional look into one man’s struggle to find meaning in his search of purpose for his family’s sake.
Penned by J.P. Davis film opens with a dark, early morning intro into the isolated goings-on of special forces sergeant James Harper (Pine), training to get back into his unit after serving several tours with one mission resulting in a serverely injured knee with its own visible scars to prove, among a few others. His only other issue from that point on is the changing of leadership on his base when his efforts, albeit underhanded with the bending of rules on his part, are cut short and result in his involuntary discharge without pay, forcing him to endure the onslaught of increasing bills and dimming prospects for a job safer than the kind of contract work that would put him in harms way, much to the chagrin of his wife, Brianne (Gillian Jacobs).
Soon enough, Harper reunites with fellow soldier and friend Mike (Foster) in the wake of a recent funeral, and the two share a heart-to-heart in which Mike offers a meet-and-greet opportunity to James as a potential solution to his financial beleaguerment, thereafter introducing him to Rusty (Kiefer Sutherland), who runs a private contracting outfit with some more-than-appealing perks. Despite Brianne’s concerns, James asserts his intent to “take care of his family”, ultimately coming aboard for what should have been a mission with no snags.
It’s not until James and his team acquire their target that he finds himself quietly questioning the reason for the mission in the first place. Bodies are left to burn in what is designed to look like an industrial accident, and with important data left in the wind, James and his team are caught in the crossfire. Injured and forced to split with his unit, James is now on the run on the streets of Berlin, tracing his steps and suddenly cornered by gunmen, with no choice but to defend himself and find out why it suddenly feels like somebody wants him dead.
Much of The Contractor deals with its introspective story points regarding James. The film flashes back a few times to his childhood as key visual highlights for a point of character development that finally culminates later in the film. It kind of feels like this aspect of the story outshines the other major string of events in the film that one might think should have gotten some attention, although upon further reflection, it’s a little easier to understand why Saleh chose to focus a little less on that end of the film, and streamline the film’s delivery to keep it more Pine-focused. I still think more could have been done, but it’s nothing too crippling in the scheme of things.
What’s more pertinent here is the moral quandary James faces in the midst of coping with an institution that’s cut him loose with no system of financial support, only to find himself applying his talents to the work of a black ops outfit whose modus operandi inevitably turns him into exactly the kind of henchman he doesn’t want to be. You feel the emotional weight of that on a few occasions here, including when watching a video of a slain character revealing the true nature of his actions, as well as when James confronts another character at gunpoint, unraveling all the suspense and intrigue that’s built up from the start of the film.
It stands with some warning that getting attached to certain roles in this film could be a hit or miss, if you’re the type to latch on to characters you like. Other than that, The Contractor promises a stimulating, dramatic action thriller about redemption and finding purpose when civism fails, and all served with a dose explosive twists and plenty of heart to last you to the end. Pine is in fine form opposite Foster and several of the on-screen principals visibly performing some of the action and stunts – coordinated by the film’s Romanian team along with Hollywood stunt veteran Jack Gill and co-coordinator Antal Kalik – and all competently shot and framed in a way that doesn’t undo the progress that’s been made for cinematic action for western audiences.
All in all, The Contractor doesn’t hit all its marks, but its message is vivid enough that between all the danger and drama, it most certainly meets the criteria.
Paramount Pictures will release the action thriller film THE CONTRACTOR in Theaters, On Digital and On Demand on April 1st!